Why the world needs ‘Glee’

If the church wants to transform culture by offering a platform, theology and worldview for people to live into, then it can learn critical lessons from Fox TV.

By J. Barrett Owen

In a postmodern, post-denominational, post-Christian, post-religious, post-everything world, the church has floundered on developing a consistent message to help transform culture.

The church attempted to entertain, but not many 20-somethings woke up to hear a bad guitarist sing shallow lyrics.

The church then attempted to become as large and as user friendly as an airport terminal, but it ended up more like a three-ring circus, overcharging for books and Starbucks coffee.

The church then attempted to push against culture by lighting candles and sitting in circles, but all it did was ostracize the very people who pay to keep our lights on.

This midlife identity crisis watered down the history of our faith, confused culture and unfortunately silenced the church’s voice of change in the local community.

Yet culture continues to look outside of its “self” for critical engagement and understanding. And where does it turn? To the place that’s hosting the most critical conversations. Not the church; but Fox TV.

For the past two years “Glee” has been one of the highest-grossing television programs in the country. Its interplay between high school drama and fantastic musical numbers has the world in awe. But it isn’t the clever dialogues or the sensational glee club performances that fuel the show’s success. Rather, Fox learned to cleverly sensationalize what people feel.

As the church continues to debate issues relevant to 1990, culture battles on with current, real-life concerns like dating, bullying, sexual identity, bitterness, discovering one’s talents, divorce, backstabbing, parental dynamics, depression, prayer, vocation, obesity, teenage pregnancy, forgiveness, same-sex parents, racial tension, fostering healthy community, the need for quality education, foreclosure and how religion undergirds it all.

Culture needs help sifting through all this data. And Fox’s “Glee” is up to the challenge, at least more than many churches.

“Glee” unapologetically pushes unfortunate and hurtful stereotypes of high school students to the forefront of the show. This radical attempt at honest – though sometimes satirical -- portrayal of the human condition captures the hearts of all Gleeks. It grapples with ethically gray and morally ambiguous scenarios. It asks tough questions, leaves room for debate and discussion and engages culture critically and unashamedly.

“Glee” celebrates the mystery and messiness of life, and it even manages to do it through song. I wish I could say the same for the church.

If the church wants to transform culture by offering a platform, theology and worldview for people to live into, then it can learn critical lessons from Fox. It will notice that postmodern people want inclusivity, wholeness, value and fulfillment.

They don’t care about division or hatred. They want meaning, love and community. They are OK with messy and forgiveness. They are OK with mistakes and loose ends. They want to journey together. They want to dialogue together. All they need is someone or something to host the conversation.

“Glee’s” mix of talent and high-school drama creates a medium well-suited to navigate the murky waters of culture and Christianity. “Glee” is playful, honest and unafraid of challenging stereotypes that need to be overcome and forgotten.

It isn’t perfect or unadulterated, but neither is organized religion. “Glee” doesn’t shy away from constantly appealing for inclusivity, but organized religion does. And culture notices this.

The church must talk more openly about the human condition. It must shed light on the fallenness of humankind. It must offer a redemptive word as well as a worship experience that is authentic and communal.

If it doesn’t, Fox will. It’s time for the church to take the lead on transforming culture.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.